According to the May newsletter recently sent from the Home of the Brave Foundation, the Board of Directors has decided to seek a new location for the proposed Woman Warriors Reintegration Program. The foundation originally planned for the homeless shelter for female veterans to be housed at a home they purchased on Griffith Lake Road. The location met with significant opposition from residents in the area.
On April 1, 2013, the Sussex County Board of Adjustment approved a rezoning request from the Home of the Brave to place the shelter at the Griffith Lake property. However, the board limited the approval to two years, rather than the typical five-year approval granted for other zoning changes, and limited the total number of occupants, including children, to eight.
“We are supportive of their thoughtful deliberations and support, however, these limitations have negatively impacted the ability for the program to move forward at this location,” the newsletter explained. “Having a two-year variance has started to impact our fundraising ability, since there is no guarantee it would be renewed for the typical five-year period, investors are hesitant to support this project. Additionally, the limit of eight total occupants does not allow the best use of the home’s capacity and investment dollars.”
Linda Boone, who will leave her position as Chairman of the Board of Directors on May 16, testified at the Board of Adjustment’s public hearing on March 4, that the home would be more of a transitional center than a homeless shelter. Mrs. Boone could not be reached for comment regarding the decision to seek a new location for the women’s shelter, a project she has been passionate about since taking over the leadership of the Board of Directors a few years ago.
The newsletter, however, explains that, in addition to the fund raising and occupancy issues that face placing the home at the Griffith Lake location, the Board of Directors says that continued hostility from the neighbors could have a negative impact on women veterans placed at the home. The Home of the Brave believes that the residents in the neighborhood are opposed to the home based on many myths about homeless individuals and not based on facts.
“The neighbors continue to express their hostility in a variety of ways and requested through their attorney that a fence surrounding the property be installed, to isolate the residents they perceive as potentially dangerous,” the newsletter explained. “Placing women veterans that are often in a fragile state within this hostile environment is a concern for the Home of the Brave Board of Directors.”
Timothy Willard, who represents residents in the neighborhood denies that his clients were hostile, and that the issue was a land use problem, not a veteran or homeless shelter problem.
“The adjacent property owners are veterans and support veterans completely, but were opposed to this location for the shelter,” said Mr. Willard. “My clients hired me reluctantly because they do understand the need for veteran support, but they felt that the home needed to be located closer to infrastructure. This was simply a land use issue and had nothing to do with supporting or not supporting veterans. We wish the Home of the Brave well in locating a more appropriate facility for this much needed program.” Mr. Willard felt that locating the home closer to infrastructure such as transportation, employment opportunities and emergency services would provide a better living environment for the veterans housed at the home.
The Griffith Lake property, which was purchased by the Home of the Brave on November 20, 2012, was purchased for $179,900 from Wells Fargo Bank as a foreclosed property, and was partially paid for by a grant from the Longwood Foundation. The home will now be sold and the proceeds applied to the purchase of a new location for the women’s shelter. Funds donated specifically to the opening of the Women’s Shelter will remain in a segregated account, monitored monthly by the Board of Directors, as the Home of the Brave continues to move forward with opening the first homeless female veterans shelter in the state.
“Our board of directors is actively still trying to pilot the Women’s Program and will update the public on their progress,” said Jessica Finan, Executive Director of the Home of the Brave. According to the newsletter, the Home of the Brave is committed to opening a women’s program, and continued financial support is critical to reduce any delays. The foundation is seeking a new location with zoning in place that would best suit the needs of female homeless veterans.